An Eye for an Eye…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

I have pointed out many times here in the past that to the ancient Hebrew mind, God’s most notable attribute was restraint. In order for a person to follow Jesus Christ, the attribute he or she must have is restraint; that this is the key ingredient to our relationship with Him is no coincidence. In this paragraph, Jesus is making the same point as He runs through four illustrations of a self-denying restraint that seems radical by worldly standards.

The old Law had provisions for retribution, and the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth principle was intended to ensure that a person’s rights were protected, and that punishment fit the crime. However, history shows that this principle was not always followed in an evenhanded way, and by the time of Jesus, punishments for damaging other people were usually found in the form of monetary fines. From Jesus’ point of view, in the Kingdom, these things were not really necessary, for our reliance should be upon God alone for justice.

The first example deals with insults, as a slap to the face would have been considered, as opposed to being a violent attack. Jesus did not respond to the insults hurled at Him; neither should we respond. If an evil person uses a court to take your property; let him have it. If you are compelled into labor, give extra, and always be ready to help those who need it. Far from announcing a series of specific commands or new rules and regulations for us to be legalistic about, Jesus is simply seeking to shift our focus from the physical things of this world, to a deeper and more significant focus on that which is above, and letting God be the judge who will bring about true justice to those who cause harm to others.

Some might suggest that this is a recipe for Christians to be doormats, but I see this as something quite different. I see this as Christians being called to great strength, for through all of this, we are called to rely not on our own ability to strike back, but upon the inner strength of God to overcome evil with good; this is the way of love.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to An Eye for an Eye…

  1. This is akin to forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean we condone what the person did. We may even be forever afraid of the person. But it means to wish the person well. Then we hand the person over to God to take care of the rest, and we let go of it.

    BTW, the literal eye for eye and tooth for tooth was adopted by Mohammad when he wrote the Qur’an about 500 AD.

    I have a very intelligent Muslim student right now, a physician, who answered one question recently that God loves his followers. I replied, “No!” God loves everyone, even those who insult and hate him. He wants them to turn so he can save them, but even when they do not, God still loves them. After studying with this man most of the summe, I think he is finally catching on. He was dumbfounded at this new concept.

  2. “Some might suggest that this is a recipe for Christians to be doormats, but I see this as something quite different. I see this as Christians being called to great strength…” I also see it as something different, Don. When we do what Jesus asks, we get a different mindset. It takes us out of the victim role and places us squarely in the role of overcomers: ones who have strength, peace of mind, stability and self-control. We are the ones who choose to offer peace, grace, love and forgiveness. (Writing more about this tomorrow. You may find yourself quoted!)

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